February 22, 2014 -- Many dreams came true last night, as the Stillpoint Farm Nations' Cup ended with a dramatic freestyle under the lights before a packed house at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington.
The class could not have been more thrilling, with the top three finishers all ending up on 75 percent and change, as Adrienne Lyle (75.8) inched ahead guiding Wizard to the win over the amazing 16-year-old, Juan Matute Jr. of Spain on Don Diego Ymas (75.325) and Tina Konyot, producing her own brand of excitement with Calecto V (75.2).
For the victory pass, the riders went around the arena to that standard sports anthem, "Stand Up (For the Champions)," and a couple of lines in the song got my attention.
One runs this way, "Here we go, it's getting close, now it's just who wants it most."
I beg to differ with that assumption in this case, because I think the top three all wanted it with equal fervor, but it was Adrienne whose years of work with the volatile Wizard have paid off big time here under the tutelage of Debbie McDonald and the sponsorship of Peggy and Parry Thomas, who sadly couldn't be on hand.
I caught up with Adrienne as she was heading home with Debbie and her husband, Bob, who are like family to the winner. I wanted to prolong the moment of triumph, so we chatted about it.
The last time Wizard took part in a major competition was January 2103 at the World Dressage Masters in Palm Beach County. He bolted there during his freestyle. This time, the stately Oldenburg waited until the final salute before taking off in excitement. Adrienne, who had him under control quickly noted he's "very spicy" and "kind of hotheaded, especially in the freestyle."
But that spirit was translated into action in his performance to "Soul Man" and "Dancing On the Ceiling," as he started out with some of his strong points, a piaffe-passage tour, and showed his usual brilliant extensions in the trot.
It was the perfect ending for Adrienne, who led the way to Team USA 1's Nations' Cup victory Thursday. She is low-key, pure class, and a tireless worker. I can say that with some authority, because I know her outside the show ring. I was at the Thomas family's River Grove Farm in Idaho in 2005 when she was a working student for Debbie and Wizard, now 15, had just come to the program. So I watched them from the start, through the good and bad times, and have been privileged to see what dedication and talent can do. Not to mention patience.
Wizard had a bruised coffin bone after the Masters and was out of the competition arena for nearly a year, recovering from his injury and then getting back into shape and training to hone the fine points.
Last night was understandably as emotional for Debbie, now the USA's developing coach, as it was for Adrienne. Standing in the dark, after the crowd had gone, we talked about it.
Now the next big step will be June's selection trials, with eight horses going forward to train in Europe as they vye for selection to the U.S. team that will compete at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
A beaming U.S. coach, Robert Dover, said he is "unbelievably proud of all of our riders throughout the Nations' Cup" and noted "Debbie is the best person and the best coach a group of people can have," while citing other coaches and workers in the U.S. effort.
"This country is ready to move forward and we are going to move forward, no matter what. We are determined...to move this country not just to a medal podium, but to the highest one," Robert declared.
Juan impressed with his one-handed pirouettes and the ultimate smoothness of his effort on Don Diego. I asked if he felt at a disadvantage, because he was competing at Intermediare I level, like 11 other riders in the freestyle, while the other six were competing at Grand Prix.
"Grand Prix has harder movements and a little more risk," he observed, but added, "I couldn't ask for more."
I will repeat what I said in my previous postcard, this is an amazing young man. After the press conference, he took off his medal and put it around the neck of his father and coach, Juan Matute Sr., as a thank you for all his dad, and his family, has done for him.
While the evening meant everything to the riders, it also was vindication for those, including Robert, who worked hard to establish these showgrounds, a half-mile from the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. There was great opposition leading to lawsuits, but the site prevailed and is a great asset to the sport in the U.S. and really, the world, as people come from all over to compete here.
As the horses did their dance in front of a mostly black-tie audience in the VIP tent, and full grandstands on the other side of the arena, Mark Bellissimo reflected on how dreams have been realized in this venue's establishment and success. Mark is the man behind Equestrian Sport Productions, which operates the GDF and PBIEC.
As I end this postcard, let me quote from "Stand Up" again, because I think it reflects everything that Adrienne and her team have been through over nearly a decade:
"Leave me to my destiny
I have waited patiently
I have vision,
Oh I believe."
That's what it takes, vision, belief and lots of hard work.
For more photos of the dressage, go to www.facebook.com/dressagetoday. Having spent more than three days at dressage, it's time for me to switch gears and head over to PBIEC for tonight's featured show jumping grand prix.
I had planned to send you another postcard Sunday afternoon about the Saturday night show jumping grand prix. But the class was postponed until Sunday because of heavy rain and some lightning. So look for the postcard Sunday night on Equisearch and we’ll post some photos on Facebook that evening as well.